So, you bought a race car. Congratulations! Let me guess: you only have a few bars of eye-searingly bright LEDs on the front instead of your OEM headlamps, and now you can't drive it on public roads anymore without getting stabbed in traffic? Gotcha. We at Black Flag are here to help.
It was time for another 24 Hours of LeMons race, so of course, I got a press truck: a 2015 Silverado 1500 High Country. This was the little bro of the Silverado 2500 High Country I'd taken to Texas World Speedway last year, so I wondered if it would feel any different. My requirements for a tow vehicle remain the same: get me there as comfortably as possible so I can sort of forget that I'm driving something larger than most NYC writers' apartments.
For better or worse, I was all set not to tow anything with this truck. I'd arranged for someone else to take care of all the car preparation and hauling duties for the upcoming 24 Hours of LeMons race at Eagles Canyon Raceway. All I had to do was show up, and it was glorious. I offered my unused towing capabilities up on the LeMons forums until I saw little snow flurries on the forecast for the weekend. Being that I'm a Texan and we don't know what to do with snow, I then had to let everybody know that I'd be really uncomfortable binning someone's $500 pride 'n' joy.
Then I got talked into rescuing another team's race car.
Originally, I had planned to do the ultimate bad idea: two races in two weeks with one car: my Porschelump 944. I'd even asked other locals if I could possibly rent their car for LeMons if mine got damaged too badly running ChumpCar the week before. I was prepared for anything this time.
My problem came down to human resources. Most of the usual suspects who usually co-drive the 944 opted to run the Harris Hill Road ChumpCar race because it was local, and Harris Hill doesn't host many crapcan events. My car filled up immediately for ChumpCar, however, I waited until I knew if I had some kind of full-time job before getting serious about trying to fill up the car for LeMons. Unfortunately, that was in February—the month of the race.
Faced with either running a car full of well-meaning strangers (who weren't coming out of the woodwork for this race, either) or too few people to even sort of break even on costs, I decided to give up on the idea of running my own car and hopped onto another team instead.
The long-running Tetanus Racing crew found space for one more slow driver, so I was in! I still had a truck to drive up to the event, but figured I had an easy weekend ahead. Race a car. Maybe throw a few snowballs on practice day, if the predictions for snow came true. Maybe even do a few snow-nuts. Send the absent LeMons staff 824 photos of Fluffy Bunny being adorable. You know, the usual.
It snowed, all right. Dude, did it snow. My drive up to Decatur on Thursday night was all clear, but it started snowing hard on Friday, dropping more fluffy white powder on the ground than I'd ever seen in Texas. I had checked the forecast that morning and had planned to get out of the hotel and to the track before the snow started to stick to the roads.
It started falling earlier and faster than I'd planned for.
If I had to describe my experience with driving in the snow, I'd say "none." The be-all and end-all of my snow driving happened at last year's 24 Hours of LeMons race at Eagles Canyon, which got checkered early for snow and ice that hit the area at the end of the race on Sunday. I was in the Lancer on summer tires, surrounded by other Texans who had about as much, if not less, experience with actual winter weather than I did. This is a state that is flummoxed by rain. Snow is even worse. I stopped mid-way home at Braum's for ice cream before I wanted to bother with the five-, six-, or seven-hour white-knuckled drive home with no grip among people who were likely to smash into my prized daily driver. Nope.
There was no Braum's between the hotel in Decatur and Eagles Canyon.
I was supposed to be crashing on a teammate's RV couch for the weekend so I wouldn't have to drive back into town each night, but both he and teammates bringing the cars were texting back and forth about how far away they were that morning. I got distracted by an article I wanted to put on the site, too. All of a sudden, the view outside was coated in a delicate white frozen blanket of oh crap.
To be perfectly honest, the fact that this truck was owned by GM and wasn't the ultra-pampered precious car that I've had since it was new took quite a bit of the pressure off. No one wants to be the person who wrecks a press vehicle, sure. That being said, having dealt with piecing Humpty Mitsu back together again from a major wreck once already, having to do it again would provoke a special kind of wrath saved for small children who sing the narwhal jingle on an airplane. Do not want under any circumstances, ever, ever, ever again, not even for a simple fender-bender.
Also distracting me from the eminent threat of a snow-slicked slide into a tree was the fact that it was actual snow. This wasn't the lame ice pellets from last year's Eagles Canyon race, where we got pelted with little balls of misery and pain. This was beautiful. This is the winter wonderland that everyone in northern climates talks about. It's weirdly crunchy under my feet! I want to build a snowman! Throw snowballs! Do snow-nuts in something, anything, maybe the race car once it arrives! OH MY GOSH YOU GUYS I CAN FINALLY DO SNOW-NUTS. DONUTS IN THE SNOOOOOOWWWWW. And I can take pictures of it oh my gosh it's snow and it's in Texas and I can't even write coherent sentences anymore oh my gosh it's snow you guys it's SNOW.
Snow is magic: fact.
So, whatever, the truck slid a bit on the way out of its parking spot at the hotel. No big deal. Okay, sort of a big deal. It's in four-wheel-drive mode because of the snow, so naturally, it has the turning radius of the moon. I was bound to hit a planter at best if I'd have kept sliding, but I didn't.
Breathe. Think rallycross thoughts. Happy rallycross thoughts. Roll with the lack of grip, and deal with it.
Once I got out onto the plowed and traveled open roads, though, this truck wasn't bad. The big, chrome wheels shod with all-season rubber weren't the grippiest, but 4 wheel drive did its thing and kept it from sliding out of control. Bridges were the sketchiest, as is usually the case with freezing weather. The fact that Texas dumps a butt-ton of sand on the bridges makes it feel like you're driving through mashed up Corn Flakes. It's a loose surface that feels far sketchier than the snow on the roads. I'm not sure it's the best solution to traction, as I moved around on the bridges like nowhere else.
But I got there. Me! In the snow! Ha HA.
Surprisingly, Eagles Canyon's gate workers said that practice day was still on. Few cars were able to make a go at some laps. Many of those who tried were getting stuck trying to make it up the steeper hills because this is Texas, and most of us race on summer tires.
Either way, I was told that the truck was okay to go on track as long as I had a helmet on.
I expected the snow do melt off at some point in time to get some racing in, and given that I hadn't driven Eagles Canyon in a year, any track time was better than no track time. I could at least get a sense of where things were again by taking a slow, careful lap around the track.
Cars were getting stuck all over, so the pace was crawling, regardless.
This one was already being attended to by another team's truck, and quickly got going on its way.
There's a certain novelty to driving a truck on a race track in the snow. That. That was great fun. Everyone should do that. Snow is hilarious: fact.
I caught up with the Miata on track, which is not something I can usually say I've done. He was having a much less fun time trying to drive up Eagles Canyon's hills than I was.
After quite a bit of fooling around in the magical white stuff, I got a call. The Escape Velocity Racing Dodge Dart was stuck at the hotel. The big, heavy beast was too much for a two-wheel-drive truck on balding tires to tow, and someone mentioned that I had a truck for the weekend with a tow ball.
After quite a bit of "uh," "erm," "you do realize that I'm a native Texan?" and "I take zero responsibility for my lack of experience towing in the snow with this," I was convinced to go fetch the truck.
"Think of it as an adventure," said a semi-stranded Bob over the phone.
I like adventures.
Yes. Obviously, I didn't get to try towing at speed. The blingtacular High Country pimp-trim ensured that my wheels were more pretty than nubby, and thus, not really suited for life on Hoth. Trucks with meatier rubber, chains, and/or more reckless drivers passed me with no issue. I was riding on 20" chrome rimzzzzz, with Goodyear Eagle LS-2 "performance" all-seasons. ("Performance" is apparently code for "not meant for snow.")
I did, however, get to try towing in the snow. That meant four-wheel-drive got left on, a sin I'd never commit in the dry.
Mmmm, trailer controls.
With those two front wheels helping put the truck's power down on a slippery surface, this truck could basically go everywhere. Speed was limited by the all season tires, but crawling along at "I don't think we'll end up in a ditch here" speeds, the truck just kept pullin'.
Snow towing is a bit hairy at times. Yes, you will feel the weight of the trailer push you along more than you would if you had more traction, particularly if you're towing a huge old Dart. While I had gotten pretty comfortable with this truck in the snow from puttering around Eagles Canyon's grounds, I can't say that I wasn't gripping the wheel with white knuckles at some parts.
Still, you figure out how to manage the feeling of being pushed along as one giant truck-and-trailer mass and the lack of grip. Again, think happy rallycross thoughts. Should you find that point where you feel like you're getting pushed along or becoming a passenger of the ruts or crap in the roads, there's the limit of your traction. Try to keep it nicely under that or you'll end up in a ditch, and remember to make smooth, controlled movements with everything, or you'll end up jack-knifed in a ditch.
Fortunately, we did not end up in a ditch. Eagles Canyon even has a steep hill before you get into the main paddock area. Unlike many other cars that day that were attempting to unload in the paddock, we did not get stuck on this hill. You quickly learn when hooning around in the snow that momentum is your friend. Stopping mid-way on an incline just kills off whatever forward momentum your truck and trailer has as it tries to climb an incline. You want all that trailer weight to will you forward, not sink you into the ground. You've got to say, "well, I have to get up that" and commit.
Overall, towing in this truck was pretty stable and easy. It didn't matter that the weather was terrible. You drive to the conditions and you're fine. At no point did I feel like the trailer was going to unexpectedly swing off the road. It was a predictable, safe towing experience.
Honestly, this truck didn't seem too much smaller than the 2500 series trucks I'd reviewed and used before. Between the bed and the interior, those trucks left me with room to spare. This truck had slightly less space. I'd call it "just enough." Even though I didn't haul my usual bunch of LeMons spares, I have no doubt that this 1500 could have hauled everything I usually bring with the 944. I might have needed to play Bed Tetris a bit more, but considering that I didn't even have to stack boxes on top of each other in the 2500 and had space left over in the bed, that's fine.
This is still a massive truck. I could have still taken a nap in the backseat on the bench. That bench could even fold up if it needed to move out of the way for more stuff. It's quite big and roomy inside, with passenger leg room that's at least comparable to the Lancer's (if not a little better) in the back seat.
Absolutely, provided it's not a cold frozen mess.
The same steps that I loved from the 2500 were here on the 1500. These are life-changing bits of plastic when you're the appropriate size for a Lotus Elise, and not much else. Short people fit in race cars well! Short people do not have the best time climbing into tow vehicles.
There was one downside, though: the little bumper steps and the running boards were two of the first things to ice over when the weather got nuts. They're not heated. They catch the water that melts off the rest of the truck. That water then freezes solid.
Whoever invents heated pickup running boards that would stay ice-free will be a real American hero.
Considering that the only real shoes I had remembered to pack were my racing shoes (oooooops), this meant that anything put in the pickup bed would have to be fetched by taller people. Preferably taller people whose shoes weren't mostly slick on the bottom for better pedal feel and enhanced eat-it-in-the-snowability.
Thank goodness the only stuff back there on this trip was a bunch of snow. If I had brought the Porschelump, I'd have been up Mount Excrement without a pair of hiking boots.
It's hard to tell much of a difference between this truck and the Silverado 2500 High Country, to be honest. It's only a little smaller. The same crease in the hood provides a good guideline for where the side of your truck is. The back-up camera is a godsend when it comes to lining up the hitch ball with the trailer, provided you remember to knock the snow off first.
The 2500 felt just a tiny bit more stable and seemed to have less body roll. That larger truck probably wouldn't have felt as much of a push from the trailer behind me in the snow because of its ludicrous size, and the 6.6L diesel engine definitely had more pull than the 1500's 6.2L V8 petrol engine.
Really, though? If you're mostly towing an open trailer in normal, non-frozen conditions, this 1500 is probably enough to putter along and barely notice the Dart behind you. You'll notice it a little more than you would in a larger truck, but not by much.
The 1500's advantage comes in driving around town. It's a tad more nimble, and doesn't quite feel like it takes an act of Congress to stop. It's no 944, and the brake pedal still feels pretty squishy, but I didn't find myself pleading it to "please stop before you hit that wall of traffic" as often as I did in the bigger truck. There is an advantage to the smaller size.
"Small" is a relative term, of course. This sucker was still too long to fit in my carport without sticking out conspicuously. Parking it still sucked, don't get me wrong. But it sucked less!
The myriad proximity sensors and back-up camera both do wonders when it comes to parking this truck. The sensors, however, got snowed over just like the camera did. A few times I got a warning that the sensors were blocked and that they wouldn't be helping me park the big beast.
The biggest nuisance beyond frozen sensors or sheer size, though, was the adaptive mirrors. Both the interior and exterior mirrors were supposed to dim when traffic comes up behind the truck with their lights on at night. In reality, though, these stupid mirrors dimmed so much that the only things you could see were the dim lights of the cars behind you. Everything else looked pitch black.
I could not see anything behind me. I was thankful I wasn't towing anything up to the track at night, because I would have completely lost all view of my trailer. There was no way to turn them off. No button that tells the truck, "no, really, I actually like being able to use my mirrors after dark."
Avoid these adaptive mirrors like a plague. I was this close to getting a tiny mirror to duct tape over the adaptive one and "fix" the problem, but luckily, the only night driving I had to do in this truck was on the way up to Decatur.
Another major nuisance was the truck's navigation system. The nav system works fine when you're able to input an address and go. I have zero complaints on its routing or appearance. It's nothing fancy, but it usually gets the job done without getting lost, provided you chose the right end point and aren't trying to get to brand new construction that's not on its maps yet.
That's all assuming that you're able to input an address in there in the first place. In order to type anything in, you have to be stopped. There's no way for a passenger to type in the address when the car is moving. No, the nanny systems mandate that you must be completely stationary. You will get a bunch of warning messages until you're at a dead stop. Never mind that all the tinkering that you're allowed to do with the radio is about as distracting as fiddling with the nav. No, your passenger cannot type in an address while the car is moving.
A smarter system would realize there's weight in the second seat and let a passenger type things in, but this system is about as dumb as it gets.
So, then you try to use its voice commands to input an address instead. That's what the warning messages tell you to do, after all.
Well, the voice commands don't understand clear English. This truck could not understand any numbers or names I tried to get out. I don't have a heavy regional accent. As far as voices go, I'm a little quiet, but sound about as Generic American as it gets. I tried over-enunciating syllables, overdoing consonants and raising my voice. None of that worked. After some yelling at this idiotic nav unit trying to get it to understand basic English, I gave up.
No, you cannot use the voice commands in this car. If you want to use the nav, you must pull over and type it in. It's completely asinine. The "features" meant to save you from yourself don't even work. This is a car from 'Murica, and it can't even speak dadgummed English. (Language. Of. 'Murica.)
Nether the unusable dark mirrors nor the nav unit mattered when I basically used the truck as a big, 4WD golf cart around Eagles Canyon's paddock. We were snowed in. I didn't need anything from back in town, so I was perfectly happy avoiding other Texans on the road who probably didn't know what they were doing, either. I drove it everywhere I could around Eagles Canyon, though. That was a safe space to try whatever I wanted in this dang truck without fear of being stuck with no one else around to pull me out.
In the snow, this truck was amusingly unstoppable. It certainly wasn't delivered to Texas prepared for snow duty. Its 4WD system was just that good.
Traction control off, two-wheel-drive back on, mash gas pedal, turn. Delicious.
This truck went over to the empty paddock that usually holds more teams (who didn't show up because of the weather) and laid down the most glorious would-be violations of the 24 Hours of LeMons' "no stuntin' or 'splodin'" rule that have ever been donutted in Texas.
(I say "would-be" because we didn't get to race at all, so I maintain my innocence on this one.)
You bet your supple-leather-coddled buttocks it's comfortable. Leather is a thigh-searing nuisance in the summer, but those heated leather buckets felt amazing in the cold. You could also opt to pump cool air through them, but that feature remained untested for the entirety of this trip.
The steering wheel was also heated, which increased the temptation to fart around in this truck whenever I could no longer feel my fingers. I'd double-bagged my delicate warm-climate hands in mittens underneath my spare set of racing gloves after it became apparent that mittens weren't enough. Both of those hand-layers were quickly shed in the truck thanks to this magical steering wheel.
GM's best feature has always been its climate control: freezing cold when you need it, blazing hot when you don't, and delightfully worry-free whenever you need it to maintain a temperature somewhere in the middle. This one had dual-zone controls, just in case one side of the truck was a bigger weenie in the cold than the other. (That would be me.)
The seats, pedals and steering wheel were all adjustable to where even I could get comfortable, both in seating position and with my back. Adjustable lumbar support plus heat? Yeah, I'm not getting out of there. Let's see where this cow path goes. Anyone need a ride across the paddock?
There were even memory options for all the power driving position adjustments in case you needed to swap drivers. Teams who carpool and swap drivers often, take note.
There is ample storage inside for Puffalumps, coffee, and other necessities. The Bose sound system did a more than adequate job of filling the boxy cabin with music, and you could add presents from anything: FM, AM or XM. They all came up as one line of presets to thumb through. Presets and volume were controllable on the steering wheel, which is a great feature for when you're gripping the wheel for dear life and don't want to move your hands to change stations.
There's a fantastic, relatively straightforward cluster of buttons for various truck functions (such as traction control and parking assist) and HVAC controls, but none of them were really hidden behind anything. Flimsy plastic covers hid most of the ports for things like USBs and power, which was also one of my complaints from the 2500, but not a complete deal-breaker. I fully expect that some of them will come snapping off on some poor unsuspecting owner who just wants to listen to music on their phone. Oh well.
The High Country's interior is brown as well, making it far better at hiding muck, grime and dirt than a lighter color. Don't get a light interior in a towbeast. Just don't.
If you find a way to be uncomfortable in this interior, you're doing something wrong.
This is a truck with enough bells and whistles to sort of distract you from the fact that you're driving a huge truck. It's manageable on public roads and not irritating at all to drive in heavy traffic. You could daily drive this if you must, provided you get a real, working rear-view mirror and don't ever have to use the nav system when you're in a hurry.
In other words, this is exactly the kind of vehicle that makes an ideal towbeast. The 1500 is a nice compromise between a great tow vehicle and a truck you can still run basic errands in and not feel as if the entire parking lot is giving you the side-eye for "compensating." It's still big, but it's the most common size of big I see on the road today. This Silverado 1500 is the normal, expected kind of big.
You'll notice that there's a trailer behind you more than you would in the 2500. If that really bothers you, hoard $10K more, get the bigger truck for tow-duty and a $3,000 maneuverable beater for daily errands.
You'll also be able to brake better, turn better, and cram into more parking spots with the 1500. Like I said, it's a compromise. If you only have the space and cash for one street-legal vehicle that has to tow a race car, you could do a lot worse than this truck.
Engine: 6.2L V8 Ecotec3
Power: 420 horsepower /460 ft-lbs of torque
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic
Tow Rating: 7,200 lbs (GVW) / 11,900 lbs (conventional trailer weight)
Curb Weight: 5,518 lbs
Seating: 5 grown adults (although the middle seat in the back is a little narrow)
MPG: 17 MPG combined; 15 MPG city/21 MPG highway
MSRP: $59,035 as tested
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